Welcome to Slammer Jabber, your weekly look at all things professional wrestling. This week was one of the busiest weeks in the calendar year for the wrestling community with the huge Wrestlemania show on Sunday, NXT Takeover on Saturday, as well as the huge post-Mania episodes for Raw and Smackdown, plus news from the upcoming Greatest Royal Rumble card in Saudi Arabia. So with plenty to cover, let's get started by taking a look at NXT Takeover: NOLA.
NXT: Takeover NOLA
The first big event of the weekend came from WWE's development brand, and in many respects, it may have been the most rewarding show that WWE put on all weekend. Right from the spectacular opening ladder match, this show delivered all the way to the main event. That opener was superb, with great performances from Lars Sullivan, Velveteen Dream, Killian Dain, Ricochet, EC3 and the eventual winner Adam Cole. Given the recent storyline about Cole having not actually won anything in NXT so far, this was a great decision and should give Cole a renewed push in the coming months. This also played nicely into the tag team three-way a bit later on with Cole having to compete despite being banged up from the ladder match. The tag bout with Cole (subbing for the injured Bobby Fish) and Kyle O'Reilly vs The Authors of Pain vs Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong. All three teams put in a great shift here, and the idea of O'Reilly having to go it alone against both teams was well done. Obviously the big swerve with Strong turning on Dunne was out of the blue, and initially doesn’t seem to make sense, given he was beating up O'Reilly during the bout, but providing they explain Strong's decision, and given that Cole and O'Reilly both seemed very surprised it should be very easy to overlook. The turn was effective, and certainly gives Strong something to do in the coming weeks, and hopefully, we'll finally see British Strong Style as a unit in NXT as a result.
Shayna Baszler vs Ember Moon was a very enjoyable bout and was actually a surprisingly different bout from the match they had at the previous Takeover. Having Baszler get the win was the right move, freeing up Moon to move up to the main roster and Baszler to go on a tear as the heel champion in NXT. Speaking of logical title changes, the move of the NXT title onto Alesteir Black from Andrade "Cien" Almas makes all the sense in the world and allows Black to be the leader of NXT while Almas moves up to the main roster. The match itself was excellent, with Almas providing some great offense, and some logical psychology. For her part Zelina Vega provided some superb work on the outside, which played perfectly into the story of the match and the finish. Almas is more than ready for the main roster, and Black will be a fine face for NXT over the coming months. Finally, we had the main event, and arguably one of the most emotional bouts in NXT history. Johnny Gargano vs Tomasso Ciampa was everything I had hoped for, with Gargano playing his role as the reprehensible heel to a tee and Gargano operating as the babyface in peril, a role he excels in. Every spot felt like it had thought behind it, and meaning to it even with the final spots which called back to their match in the Cruiserweight Classic while they were tag team partners. The story behind this bout was immaculately told over the course of the last two years and it really was worth it.
A superb show, from top to bottom easily one of the best Takeover events ever and the best WWE produced event in some time. Takeover: NOLA set the bar ridiculously high for Wrestlemania, and inevitably provided a better, more consistent show.
The main event of the wrestling calendar and the biggest show of the year, Wrestlemania truly is a larger than life experience and a production of a size that is only comparable to something like the Superbowl. However, the size of the set and the height of the fireworks don't necessarily make for a good show, and this was not necessarily a good event overall. The show opened in really promising fashion, with Seth Rollins vs The Miz vs Finn Balor providing a fast-paced, well-organised match. Charlotte vs Asuka may well have been the match of the night, with some great back and forth, superb near falls and a surprising finish. In the run-up to the show, I wasn't super into the idea of Asuka losing her streak, but this was handled brilliantly and as a result, doesn't harm Asuka at all, and makes Charlotte seem like a megastar. The US Title three-way was just there, and Jinder Mahal winning does nothing good for anyone.
One of the biggest matches of the night pitted Kurt Angle and the debuting Ronda Rousey vs Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. Surprisingly, this was perhaps one of the highlights of the show. Rousey played a blinder, and came across like a top star. Stephanie, to her credit did really well and played a superb heel while Triple H and Angle held everything else together. Rousey might not have been the most experienced hand in the ring, and a few things looked a bit sloppy, but Ronda is already developing an exciting style and frankly she has enough charisma and star-power already that I can only see her main eventing next year's Wrestlemania because she will soon be the biggest star in the company. A cracking match and a proper showcase for Rousey.
The Smackdown tag team three-way was a fine buffer between big matches, and although The Bludgeon Brothers winning seemed inevitable, it was well done. However, the next match was a very surprising affair in contrast. John Cena coming out to face The Undertaker, only to first be trolled by Elias, and then to finally get his match with Taker. The bout itself was, basically a squash. Taker looked in great shape, better than he has since around 2012, and the match was a quick, dominant showcase for him. As for where this leaves Cena, well, who knows? Still, a return to form for The Deadman.
One of the major things I was looking forward to going into this show was seeing Daniel Bryan back in action, and for his part e didn't disappoint even if the rest of the match was a little lacklustre. The injury angle to open the match was an odd decision but presumably, one designed to make Bryan's eventual hot tag, nuclear. Shane McMahon was fine, and nothing more and Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens really only hit fifth gear when Bryan came in. While the finish was never in doubt, it was great to see Bryan, looking in great condition and like he hasn't lost a step, even while subtly adjusting his style to remove some of his riskier moves, without damaging his retire one bit. Welcome back Bryan.
Alexa Bliss vs Nia Jax could easily have been the toilet break match for many, but both women put in a real shift and this was a really engrossing affair in a tough spot. The much awaited "dream match" between Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles for the WWE title was a little on the disappointing side, and while it wasn't perhaps everything it could have been it was still very enjoyable. The post-math heel turn from Nakamura was surprising, but it certainly makes the result, and the way the match unfolded make more sense as a result. However, it still felt somewhat disappointing. The second to last match of the night pitted The Bar against Braun Strowman and a mystery partner. For weeks speculation ran rot s to who Strowman's partner could be and it was revealed as...Nicholas. Yes, a ten-year-old "randomly" picked from the crowd was Strowman's partner and won the titles with him. This may not have been great for The Bar, but I loved it. It was silly and over-the-top but it was also everything it needed to be.
Finally, we had what may be one of the worst received main events in Wrestlemania, if not WWE history. Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar was an odd match, which matched the odd build up to it. Having Reigns kick out of four F5s (more than The Undertaker), bleed heavily and still not win was an odd move, and it ended the show on something of a damp squib.
A very lop-sided show, with some great moments and lots that probably didn't belong on Wrestlemania. The show was nearly seven hours if you include the pre-show, and perhaps WWE could learn a thing or two about less being more from their colleagues in NXT.
The post-Wrestlemania Raw has been a pretty big deal for the past twenty or so years, and this year's edition offered plenty in the way of surprises. The debuts were certainly interesting with No Way Jose making his main roster debut against a local enhancement talent, Ember Moon coming out as a surprise tag partner for Nia Jax in a fun match with Mickie James and Alexa Bliss (with the eclipse getting the desired shocked reaction from the crowd as she pinned Bliss), and The Authors of Pain also squashing a local team, while also seemingly splitting up their alliance with Paul Ellering (logically, as you imagine Ellering will not want to be a regular on the road at his age). All three were logical call-ups from NXT and there was really nothing more Moon or AoP to accomplish in NXT, while Jose has been doing little of note lately and certainly fill a lower card role on the main roster, so it makes sense.
Much like the debuts, the post-Mania Raw normally features some returns, and we got a few here. Bobby Lashley made an instant impact, and got a surprisingly good reaction, taking out Elias. I really think Lashley has improved significantly since being away from WWE, and he could genuinely have a top line run here. Jeff Hardy returning to even up the odds in the segment with Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, The Miz and The Miz-tourage was a good reintroduction for Hardy, and the main event it led to between the two six-man teams was very entertaining, if not an odd choice to headline the show. Samoa Joe returning was a very welcome surprise, although the promo from Roman Reigns that preceded it was actually pretty interesting. I'm rarely a fan of pseudo-shoot promos, but given the recent build for Reigns and Lesnar, as well as the news that Lesnar has re-signed (even if only until the summer, or conversely for the foreseeable future, but with an option to fight for the UFC too, details are scarce), this was pretty well in keeping with how Reigns has been portrayed. The match between Joe and Reigns should be a cracker, and could perhaps even be for the Universal Title, should Reigns win it in Saudi Arabia (more on that later). All in all, some well thought out returns that should make for some interesting TV in the coming weeks.
The opening segment with Ronda Rousey and Stephanie McMahon was a simplistic one, but it helped to continue to make Rousey seem like an absolute killer, which can only be a good thing. The angle with Braun Strowman and Nicholas relinquishing the tag titles was inevitable, but you imagine this will help freshen the tag division up, and the tow tag team eliminators were good matches. Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy make for a decent team, although I'm very curious as to where this storyline goes with the two. They looked great against Titus Worldwide here. The Revival vs Gallows and Anderson was just the same match they seem to have been having for the past 17 years (or so it seems). The backstage segment with Sami Zayn, Kurt Angle and Kevin Owens was really fun (especially the shot at TNA), and the match between Zayn and Owens was fine, if not spectacular, and the finish certainly leaves room for this storyline to develop over the coming weeks, especially with next week's superstar shake-up.
Finally, Mandy Rose picked up a big win over Sasha Banks (thanks in part to the continued issues with Bayley), but the real story came after the match with Paige announcing her retirement from in-ring competition. It’s been on the cards for a while and I think we all knew it was coming, but it was somewhat poetic that she finally announced her retirement in the same arena where she debuted on the main roster four years earlier. The speech was, of course, very emotional and it is sad that Paige has had to give up her career at just 25, but I'm sure she'll be just fine in her new role (more on that shortly), and with the film about her life coming out in September.
A very enjoyable Raw, with lots of surprises, plenty of set up for both The Greatest Royal Rumble, and Backlash. Lots of returns, debuts and plenty to talk about.
It's not just Raw who are able to bring about shocks and surprises on the post-Mania show. The reveal of Paige as the Smackdown general manager was a surprise, but it makes sense, and her first act of booking Daniel Bryan in a match with AJ Styles was a very popular one. I like that it adds a different dynamic to things and certainly shakes up the authority dynamic on the blue brand. The resultant match between Styles and Bryan was exceptional and arguably as good as anything on the Mania card. In some ways it's a shame that the match ended without a finish, but then we wouldn't have had the cracking attack by heel Shinsuke Nakamura, who in this one show seemed like an absolute revelation. His backstage segment with Renee Young was superb, especially his belligerent sarcastic answers. Hitting Bryan in the back of the head with a knee is great heel move, and the multiple low blows to AJ Styles rammed the point home. Smackdown needs a top heel now Zayn and Owens are gone, and Nakamura fits the bill perfectly.
The second biggest occurrence on this show happened in the women's division. Charlotte's promo showing her respect for Asuka was very well done, but even better was the superb debut of "The Iconics" or formerly known as "The Iconic Duo", Peyton Royce and Billie Kay, complete with a slightly altered look, and what appears to be some cosmetic surgery. The segment and the beat down with Charlotte was excellent, and this, of course, brought out Carmella to cash in her money in the bank briefcase, successfully taking the title. While I believe this could have been more impactful at Mania, I do understand why they have gone about this in the way they have. Carmella is unlikely to have a lengthy reign, but this was a great moment for the live crowd and sets up some interesting programmes moving forward.
The rest of the show was less exciting. Naomi vs Natalya was a decent TV match, The Usos vs The New Day was very enjoyable as usual, and Randy Orton vs Bobby Roode vs Rusev was a fairly dull affair, and frankly, I could do without the notion of Jinder Mahal vs Randy Orton happening again.
A decent show, but as usual a less spectacular affair than the red brand provided, but perhaps with better in-ring action.
Superstar shake-up thoughts
As announced this week, the upcoming episodes of Raw and Smackdown will feature the "Superstar Shake-up", a draft of sorts where the two brands swap talent between the shows. Now there are several performers who are desperately in need of refreshing and this is a great opportunity to do just that. I suspect one of AJ Styles or Daniel Bryan will be moving over to Raw, especially after their match this week, perhaps with Jeff Hardy or Finn Balor moving the other way. I suspect we'll get some women moving around, maybe with Becky Lynch and/or Naomi moving to Raw to shore up the babyface side of things, maybe with Asuka moving the other way. There are sure to be moves aplenty, and hopefully, Smackdown will be the beneficiary of some fresh bodies, and the balance of star power is redressed somewhat. Regardless, it should be a very interesting to see how it all "shakes" out next week.
Greatest Royal Rumble news
Finally, this week we got some more news on the Greatest Royal Rumble event in Saudi Arabia on April 27th. Among the announced matches we have The Bar taking on the winners of the Raw tag team eliminator for the vacant tag titles, Triple H vs John Cena, The Bludgeon Brothers vs The Usos for the Smackdown tag titles, Seth Rollins vs Samoa Joe vs The Miz vs Finn Balor for the Intercontinental title. Originally The Undertaker was announced as having a casket match with Rusev, but this has been changed to Chris Jericho which is infinitely more interesting(if not a bit more unusual), and Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar in a steel cage (which smacks of WWE trying to get Reigns a win in a country where he won't be booed). Lastly, of course, we have the 50-man rumble which now includes Daniel Bryan, Kurt Angle, Bray Wyatt, Chris Jericho, and many others. It's shaping up to be a huge card, and best of all it is available on the WWE Network at 5pm, so a perfect time to watch it in the UK.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news from the roster moves on Raw and Smackdown, as well as touching on any major stories that might break in the next week. In the meantime, keep it locked here at Screenjabber for all the best movie, Blu-ray, DVD and video game reviews, as well as all the latest news, podcasts and more. Until next time, so long folks.